Forum held on upcoming O-F referendum

OSSEO - A public forum was held on the upcoming Osseo-Fairchild School District ballot referendum for Tuesday's spring election on April 2 sponsored by the Osseo Chamber of Commerce at Osseo City Hall back on Thursday, March 28.

District officials gave a presentation on the referendum before opening the forum up for questions. The district wants approval by the voters for a non-recurring referendum totaling $8.8 million over four school years: $1.6 million in 2024-25, $2 million in 25-26, $2.4 million in 26-27 and $2.8 million in 27-28. Voters had approved similar referendums for the district of $7.1 million in 2014 and $7 million in 2020. The increased costs will break down, according to the district, to $1.50 per month or $18 per year to $100,000 of property value over four years. Mill rates in the district will remain between $6-8 if the referendum passes

The money approved in this referendum will go towards continuing various programs, especially in apprenticeships, college readiness, nursing, construction and welding join-programs with CVTC, STEM-based curriculum and robotics, athletics and co-curricular activities and summer school programs. The money will also go towards paying district debt and some one million in maintenance projects throughout the district. It will also allow the district to maintain competitive teacher and other staff salaries

If the referendum is turned down, the district will have to cut some $1.6 million in its next school budget to avoid a deficit and start a vicious cycle when it comes to state aid.

"State aid is based upon how much you spend as a district, so the less you spend, the less they give you," district Superintendent Lori Whelan said. "So that means local taxes will still go up to make up for that difference."

During the Q&A session, citizen Fred Cristian, expressed his deep disappointment with the district for not stating clearly the referendum total came to $8.8 million over four years in total on district literature on the referendum and on their website and social media platforms, something district officials admitted was a mistake. They had said state law did not allow them on the ballot to total out the referendum cost (which was broken down over four school years) but which Christian felt was borderline unethical and deceptive.

"A lot of people in the community are really upset about it," Christian said. "I mean people on fixed incomes, you have this referendum along with the water and sewer rates in Osseo and new jail in the county we're paying for and then to have these these meetings scheduled when people are still working (the meeting began at 5:30 p.m.) and then you have this long ballot question put in this way. I want to see the kids get helped too, but all this is just too much!"

Whelan said the way the state approaches school financing forces districts like Osseo-Fairchild into asking taxpayers for money money for operating costs to pay for state and Federal mandates, especially for special education programs and such. Since the Great Recession, per pupil adjustments in costs have not kept up with the rate of inflation well before 2020 and thus has created a gap of $3,380 per pupil. Until these financing formulas are changed, this is the reality school districts in Wisconsin face.

"We can't turn our backs on our kids," O-F Middle/High School Principal Eric Young said. "We have to give the the same opportunities as districts around them."


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